Keeping Your Opinions via Status Updates or Tweets to Yourself: The Dangers of Being Too Candid on Twitter or Facebook

by Christian Stegmaier

Facebook and Twitter are social networking and micro-blogging services that keep people connected. They have become a part of millions of people’s lives on an everyday basis. They are in many ways very useful; however, there is a danger to them career-wise if misused.

Facebook, once the exclusive domain of college students, has over 150 million active users. The post-graduate demographic is the fasest growing bloc of users. Facebook is many things: a high-school/college reunion; a real-time updated address book; and, increasingly, a marketing tool for self-promoters via use of “status updates” and other posts.

Twitter, a newer application, allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as “tweets”) via text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Millions of users – including political campaigns, corporations, and governments – routinely use Twitter to provide their “followers” with up-to-the minute status updates. Tweeter also has become a tool to generate instant news. When US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River after takeoff in New York City, Janis Krum, a passenger on one of the ferries that rushed to help, took a picture of the downed plane as passengers were still evacuating and tweeted it before traditional media arrived at the scene.

In the age of openness, more and more people are employing these services to keep their friends, family, colleagues, and others instantly apprised of their current status. Often, these status updates or tweets contain editorizing with very little filter. With so many eyes potentially on what these updates contain, a user’s commentary can be detrimental to his or her professional career. One such tweet made news on the internet this week, which proves to be a useful teaching lesson for watching what you put out there, no matter how trivial you think the update is.

James Andrews was flying into FedEx global headquarters in Memphis to present on digital media to the worldwide communications group at FedEx people on behalf of his employer advertsing agency. Upon arrival in Memphis, something prompted him to tweet:

True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here! 2:58 PM Jan 14th

A FexEx employee picked up on the tweet. The employee then in turn emailed the same to FedEx corporate vice presidents, directors, and all management of FedEx’s communication group, as well as Andrews’ bosses at his agency. Andrews later received the following email from FedEx:

Mr. Andrews,

If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith.

Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays [your agency] annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident[,] however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.

Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut… which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs.

Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying [your agency] to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.

Pretty scathing response. Moreover, it’s hit the internet and has been read worldwide – that’s insult to injury. What’s worse is the obvious fence mending that had to be done instantly between the two companies to preserve the multi-million dollar relationship.

As Al Pacino said in “Any Given Sunday,” life is a game of inches. A small mistake like this in another scenario could cost a vendor or supplier a key client and the accompanying revenue.

To restate the admonition given by FedEx to Andrews: “A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.” With that said, common sense needs to be employed by Facebook and Twitter users, especially in the business context. Don’t write about your customers or business partners. Don’t post stupid pictures or generate profiles that make you less than professional – no one has confidence in a 35-year-old who acts like a college freshman. Operate as if everything you write or post on profiles will be published on the front page of your newspaper or reported that night on the television. And think to yourself whether your stream of consciousness status updates or tweets are necessary and going to reflect well on you.

As your grandmother might would say, “If you don’t have anything nice or productive to post, keep your tweets to yourself.”

P.S. I really like Memphis. You can take me to Rendezvous anytime for a slab of their famous ribs.

Hat tip to for the story, “Online Diplomacy: The Famous Fedex Twitter/Email Exchange” (January 17, 2009):

About Christian Stegmaier
Senior Shareholder

Christian Stegmaier is a shareholder and chair of the Retail & Hospitality Practice Group at Collins & Lacy in Columbia. He is also active in the firm’s professional liability and appellate practices. Stegmaier welcomes your questions at (803) 255-0454 or